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Home / World / China has just arrested Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy figure Jimmy Lai

China has just arrested Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy figure Jimmy Lai

Hong Kong authorities detained a prominent pro-democracy media tycoon on Monday, another sign that the sweeping national security law imposed by China last month was stifling freedoms. due to the territory.

Jimmy Lai was detained on Monday for alleged collusion with foreign powers. Lai is the founder and owner of Next Digital, the publishing company Apple Daily, a Hong Kong-based publication that has supported pro-democracy protests. Lai himself had openly supported the pro-democracy faction and was previously arrested for allegedly participating in an illegal pro-democracy protest.


7;s two sons were also arrested on Monday, with Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Next Digital. Agnes Chow, a senior leader in Hong Kong’s democracy movement, is also jailed. In total, Hong Kong authorities said at least 10 people, between the ages of 23 and 72, have been arrested for national security and other crimes, including supporting sanctions. foreign penalties.

Lai is one of the most notable figures arrested under a new national security law that went into effect July 1. The act gives China broad power to crack down on dissidents, These include crimes loosely identified as “secession, subversion, organizing and committing terrorist activities and collusion with foreign countries or external factors. It also has harsh penalties, including the possibility of life imprisonment.

Lai’s detention had a cold effect on press freedom in Hong Kong. More than 200 police raided the Apple Daily office, a 9-hour operation, according to the South China Morning Post.

Apple Daily reporters live-streamed the raid, showing police officers rummaging through papers on reporters’ desks. The Chinese authorities took Lai to the offices during the raid, escorting him through the offices during a police search. According to the Washington Post, the authorities shipped 25 boxes of documents.

In a thread posted on Twitter, Apple Daily accused the police of ignoring the terms of the search warrant “and defrauding through news materials, as well as restricting press members from reporting and obstructing them. an active news organization. ”

“Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong claims to guarantee residents’ freedom of expression, press and publication, but the administration’s action proves the opposite,” the statement continued. . “The raid on a press facility is a serious attack on press freedom and should not be tolerated in a civilized society.”

Apple Daily has described Hong Kong’s freedom of the press as “hanging by the wire”, though it vows to fight.

“The arrest of Jimmy Lai and Agnes Chow (one of the student activist leaders) is the greatest insult to the violations of freedom of speech and press in Hong Kong,” said Lynette H. Ong, deputy. Professor of political science at the University of Toronto told me in an email.

Ong added: “It will have a huge impact on the Hong Kong community,” that’s exactly what Beijing is trying to achieve with [national security law]. “

China’s crackdown under national security law is “abnormally fast and unusually slow”

When Britain delivered Hong Kong to China in 1997, with the promise that Beijing would respect Hong Kong’s near-independent independence until at least 2047, following the so-called “one country, two systems ”.

However, China for many years chipped and dipped Hong Kong’s freedoms. Now, national security law has rapidly and substantially promoted the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. When it came into effect in July, Victoria Tin-bor Hui, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, called it “complete and complete control over Hong Kong and completely devastating the system.” system of Hong Kong ”.

National security law now means things are going public, targeting what the Chinese Communist Party sees as an opposition – and sending a very clear message to others who can support. surname.

Samuel Chu, a US-based activist and chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Democratic Council, told me that this is part of China’s steady drum beat to crack down on activists. , both at home and abroad. Zhou himself was arrested under the new national security law. (The law expands to the point that even foreigners or foreign speakers can be arrested if they return to Hong Kong or mainland China.)

Protesters believed to support Hong Kong’s independence were arrested on the first day the law went into effect; since then, student activists – between the ages of 16 and 21 – have been charged with engaging in separatist activities.

The Hong Kong government also postponed the Legislative Council elections in September, and although officials cite the coronavirus, the government has taken steps to prevent pro-democracy lawmakers from running. The Chinese government also issued arrest warrants for Hong Kong residents who had left the city, including Zhou, a US citizen, and Nathan Law, another prominent activist and former lawmaker.

The arrest of Lai and the others is the latest example of China’s persecution. “I have no doubt that it is all staged as a way of showing the total control they want in Hong Kong,” said Chu. “They are systematically pointing out, we will not tolerate any dissent from anywhere, from anyone.”

Chinese state media have regarded Lai as a prominent advocate of democracy, and both he and activists like Chow Chow were previously targeted for their frankness. In May, Lai wrote an article in the New York Times when China revealed its plans to implement this new national security law. “I always thought that I could go to jail one day for my publications or for calls for democracy in Hong Kong,” he said.

Allen Carlson, an associate professor at Cornell University, said they had memorized a Chinese saying, “kill chickens to scare monkeys”. In other words, Beijing is punishing some high-ranking individuals as an example for others. “The detention of Jimmy Lai and Agnes Chow are prime examples of the application of this idiom,” said Carlson, adding that it “could have a cold effect on Hong Kong society”.

Experts, activists and Hong Kong people fear exactly this. In addition to the protesters and vigorous activists, pro-democracy movement advocates can think twice about whether they will continue to be so public now when their families and livelihoods suffer. threatening or not. Activists and journalists have previously deleted social media posts, essentially censoring themselves. The arrest of Lai and the others is the Chinese way of saying, basically, we don’t mess.

Ong said these high-level arrests could mean “things can go in one of two directions: repression may slow down (because Beijing successfully averted further disputes), may decide to ‘squeeze more’.

Whether that happens could have as much to do with what is happening in Hong Kong as what is happening in the rest of the world. That includes, on the serious side, dangerously low US-China relations.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom, professor at the University of California Irvine and author of Watch: Hong Kong on the brink, described Hong Kong’s blows to press freedom and civil society as “unusually fast and unusually slow”.

In Hong Kong, the speed has increased dramatically. But to the outside, these events are taking place somewhat patchy – arrest warrants for foreign activists a week, cancellation of the Legislative Council elections a few days later, and now arrests. keep mass.

“There has been a spread from the repression moves,” Wasserstrom said. On the one hand, he said, it was blown one after another. But when it comes to international attention – especially in the Covid-19 age – China’s repression looks a little more fragmented than it is quick to tighten control.

US-China tensions are the backdrop for all of this

Lai’s arrest also comes after the United States imposed sanctions on 11 officials involved in the persecution of democracy in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing CEO Carrie Lam. and the sheriff of the territory. This was a serious escalation and although Chinese officials mocked the penalties, they retaliated by placing sanctions on U.S. individuals, including some Communist Party lawmakers. tie.

Also on Monday, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taiwan, the highest-ranking US official visiting since 1979. Although the visit was ostensibly about its success. Taiwanese companies in dealing with the coronavirus, but such a trip is very provocative for Beijing. to bring Taiwan back under its control and treat any acknowledgment of it as a violation of the “one China” policy.

“I think both sides are deliberately poking the dragon and poking the eagle to see how far they can go – and also to bolster the domestic credential,” said Carlson. The Trump administration has blamed China for its handling of the coronavirus and is taking a tough approach with China in part to distract from its own failures in dealing with the pandemic. And Chinese President Xi Jinping is pushing to bring Hong Kong closer under his control, one of his core interests.

That leaves Hong Kong, like Xinjiang, caught in the midst of a great power struggle as its territorial freedoms are dismantled. “Overall, this doesn’t look good for the future,” said Carlson. “We could see more arrests in Hong Kong, more repression and no one repelled – the US did, but not really in a credible way.”

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